New chief aims to end Kashechewan 'problems'
Derek Stephen says he wants to better understand why spending is being cut back on housing and water
Posted: Aug 8, 2012 8:26 AM ET
Last Updated: Aug 8, 2012 12:13 PM ET
Kashechewan First Nation’s newly elected chief says one of his biggest jobs will be getting the ear of the federal government to help make his community a safer place in which to live.
Derek Stephen, who was elected chief of the James Bay first nation last week, said he wants to better understand how government cutbacks cause problems in his community.
The 41-year-old beat out incumbent chief Jonathan Solomon, as well as former chief Oliver Wesley.
Stephen said government cutbacks have created problems like malfunctions at Kashechewan's water treatment plant and a shortage of housing units.
"Sometimes we may not understand how the federal government works,” Stephen said. “At the end of the day, we're always ending up with problems because of the cuts that are being done just because of dollars."Chronic poor water conditions are a critical problem for Kashechewan First Nation. ((CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward))
After an e-coli outbreak and a series of floods, several residents in the community petitioned to move Kashechewan to higher ground. But former Chief Solomon signed a $200 million deal to rebuild the community instead, saying "it is the wish of my people to move forward to a brighter future for their children and their grandchildren."
Exactly 5 years after that announcement, Solomon was voted out as chief — and Chief Stephen said very little of that $200 million has come to Kashechewan.
He noted more studies need to be done to determine how that money should be spent.
For those who still think the community should be moved — an estimated half-billion-dollar proposition — Stephen said he has “good feelings about it and I also have mixed feelings about it.”
"My biggest concern for my community is the safety issue,” he said. “It's not really a dollar sign for me."
Chief Stephen said his other priority is to find a way to curb the rising number of young people in Kashechewan who are committing suicide.
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